My Top Five Tips for a Successful Actor Headshot

We all know that to succeed in acting you have to have a killer, high quality actor headshot. It has to stop those casting directors in their tracks and leave them wanting to meet you in person. I’ve been photographing actor headshots in New York City for more than ten years now and from the start I’ve been fascinated with decoding the secrets to an effective headshot. In the process of shooting literally thousands of headshots, I’ve seen it all. From clients who arrive two hours late to those who’ve spent all night practicing in the mirror! They all want to succeed but not all of them know how. But with just a little bit of effort and the right mindset, you can rock your headshot session and watch the audition doors start to fly open. So, to kick off 2019 with a bang, I’m sharing my top five secret tips to an audition-worthy shot:

#1: Be Early to Your Appointment

If you do just one thing to succeed, get to your shoot early. You don’t want to waste a single minute of your shoot time to subway delays or traffic jams, so give yourself plenty of extra time to get here.

It’s not just about being on time though. To really rock your headshot session, arrive at least 15-20 minutes early to get oriented and focused. Use the restroom, freshen up, and breathe. Hang your clothes up on the wardrobe rack and decide on your first look. Meditate for a minute. Do some jumping jacks and stretches. In fact, do whatever warm-ups you would do before a performance. Which leads me to my next tip…

#2: Think of Your Shoot As a Performance

An actor’s headshot shoot is very different from taking selfies with your friends. An effective actor headshot needs to show your energy and an ability to connect with the viewer. You need to bring the same kind of focus to your relationship with your photographer as you would to a scene partner. Even get into character. Become specific characters you’d like to play. Pretend we’re doing a scene together. Approach it like a performance.

I always tell people to “take charge” of the shot. In other words, don’t be passive. When we’re kids, we’re trained to hold still and smile for the camera. But in a headshot session, freezing is the kiss of death. You need to be actively engaged. This is your chance to tell us a story about yourself through your eyes and body language.

Rest assured, you’re not giving a performance on your own. You have a partner in your photographer. When you collaborate with me, I make suggestions, direct you, and draw you out.

#3: Look Away In Between Shots

My first job as a headshot photographer is to keep you from looking like a deer frozen in the headlights. It happens to the best of us when we don’t know what we’re doing. We’re nervous, we aren’t sure what to do, and we shut down. A helpful practice is to keep your body moving:

  • Turn your head away in between shots and then look back into the lens quickly. Don’t even think about it.

  • Next, try looking down and then up into the camera.

  • Then, try doing a Zoolander. Yup, you heard me. Sometimes the most exaggerated pose ends up being the best shot!

The point is feel free to be silly, play, and experiment. You never know where it will lead you. We’re not aiming to make every shot a ten. Each shot is merely a stepping stone to the handful of winners. So keep your body and head moving in between shots to explore different angles and reset your attention. It helps your face to come alive and your eyes to connect, which promotes a more natural looking and engaged looking headshot.

Also, when you look into the camera, you want it to feel like you’re looking at a person. But a camera has just one “eye” and people have two. So find two different focal points on the lens of the camera and imagine that you’re looking into a pair of eyes. By the way, if you’re not sure what the heck I’m talking about, don’t panic! When you shoot with me, I guide you through the process every step of the way and coach you on all these tricks during your session.

#4: Choose the Right Clothes

Do yourself a big favor and don’t show up to your shoot with a bunch of t-shirts crammed into a backpack. What to wear in an actor headshot and how you look is half the battle. So, number one, take the time to talk with me about your casting and what types of clothes you should bring. Number two, research the best colors and tops on your own by looking at other people’s shots. Pay particular attention to people with similar skin tone to yours. Next, fold and pack carefully so your tops are in good condition when you get here.

Your hair and make-up need to look their absolute best in an actor headshot as well. In most cases, for women, this means going for a blow-out before your shoot and working with a professional make-up artist. For most men, looking your best means getting a haircut a week or two before the shoot and being clean-shaven. For everyone, a good night’s sleep the night before is essential.

Doing your homework and being prepared will pay off big time the day of your shoot. Looking your best is only half the battle and, when you make the effort, it frees you up to concentrate on the other half during the shoot, which is the mental and emotional work of connecting on camera.

#5: Turn Off Your Cellphone and Leave Your Friends at Home

There’s nothing worse than someone checking their email in the middle of a headshot session. Guys!!! Shooting takes focus. Not to mention, you’re dropping a lot of coin on this! You can’t possibly be focused in the right way, if you’re checking your email or surfing Instagram while I change the lights. If you want to take a selfie in my glamorous studio to post on Instagram, I’m all for it — just ASK me! We can make time for it before or after your session. Otherwise, let’s stay focused on the shoot. It will make a world of difference in your shots.

The same is true for chatting and laughing with your friends. It’s okay to bring someone for moral support but only if it helps you to focus on what you’re doing. Too often people get distracted and loose focus, and it can really weaken your headshots. I hate to be a party pooper but it’s the truth.

Bottom line is: I love helping you with all these challenges and I have 12+ years of experience to share with you. I know it can feel scary and overwhelming, especially if it’s your first time, and I’m here to help you.

Feel free to call or email me anytime with your questions. You can call me anytime for a free consultation at (917) 628-8845 or send me an email at lisa@lisahancockphotography.com.